A Note on Organic Interactions
Every time I go, I promise I will never go again. But this time is different. I tell a friend the same thing. I tell him we will only go for dinner. That way, we won’t feel like we have bought into the 25-hour Awkward Seminar whereby nametags seem apropos, where desperation reads, “I came down 150 blocks to meet girls this Shabbat”. So my friend asks me: why does it matter that we simply feel this way? Feelings are often shallow. There is much to be gained!
He might be correct. Indeed, if I could master my emotions; jettison any thoughts of the ridiculousness of staying at a nearby hotel in order to spend a whole Shabbat at Stern; down a few shots of vodka beforehand; and avoid any memories of the look in my colleagues’ eyes during Friday night davening the last time I went, I could, in theory, be fine. Time and again, events like the Shabbatons at Stern deceptively appear to be great opportunities, and it seems to me that food quality and programming aren’t exactly the problem.
The functioning factor I have in mind is the organic nature (or absence thereof) of such events. Interactions with the opposite sex should feel natural, like the type of “healthy snacks” your mom likes to buy. Ideally, they shouldn't feel forced or planned months in advance. One shouldn't feel mandated to meet someone. With this in mind, a BBQ on fake grass on a partly cloudy day in early May can hardly be called “natural”. Neither can a girls to guys ratio of 10:1 on Shabbat afternoon be described as organic, no matter how mistakenly coveted such fantasy circumstances might be on other college campuses. These conditions breed awkwardness, discomfort and impediments to natural expression on part of both parties.
Needless to say, some students aren’t just uncomfortable in inorganic settings; they are downright anxious. With the shuttling in of busses of girls on Yom Haatzmaut, some endure more pointless anxiety than that stemming from the final exams that follow. Last year, I wrestled one anxious friend out of his room but was ultimately unsuccessful in convincing him to attend the barbeque. He has since transferred out of YU because, as he put it, there was not enough interaction with the opposite sex. The irony is deafening, but the point is clear: many male students are simply too intimidated to attend an event which so implicitly advertises the opportunity to meet members of the opposite sex. My colleagues on the Stern campus might be able to confirm whether the reverse is veritable. Of course, this opportunity is not spelled out in words. It is not marketed in y-studs. It may even be hardly spoken about among students. But it’s pretty clear.
What might be the alternative, you might ask? Career panels, volunteer trips and Medical Ethics roundtables facilitate far more ‘real’ interactions than Stern Shabbatons. These venues provide the opportunity for members of the opposite sex to interact in a pressure-free environment where the primary goal is not to meet someone new but to learn about careers in real estate, to educate public school students or to discuss the latest controversies in medical ethics. I have met far more people at these events than at the less organic events, and I find it funny that you often find things where you least expect them. Your car keys, your summer internship, your bashert.